Saturday, July 30, 2011
RULE 34 by Charles Stross (2011 Ace Books / 258 pp / hc)
In this loose sequel to his 2007 novel HALTING STATE, someone (or something) is murdering (in unusual fashions) spammers across the Internet in 2035 Scotland. Inspector Liz Kavanaugh--as head of the Rule 34 squad--must track the source of these murders down, and Stross brings the suspects flying at you from every angle.
In case you don't know what "Rule 34" means, it's a "generally accepted internet rule that states pornography or sexually related material exists for any conceivable subject." And while Stross manages to pull some really funny ideas out of this (the first victim is killed by an ancient enema machine!), there was still room for him to go a bit further...but considering this is a mainstream scifi novel, perhaps he kept things right on the dividing line? And considering victims are offed by various household appliances, the author surprisingly pushes his tale at a (mostly) serious pace. (I still can't get the image of one victim shrink-wrapped to his mattress out of my head).
While some may have a problem with the Internet lingo and Scottish slang (not to mention the second-person "real-time" viewpoint), Stross makes it work; and like William Gibson's classic NEUROMANCER, there isn't much time wasted explaining the technology that's in place: the reader is required to accept it and move on (something I have NO problem doing, and something that made Stross' HALTING STATE tedious at times). Stross' near-future world features the Internet in continual personal access, and the brain-implanted mobile phones aren't so far fetched.
As a scifi police prodecural, RULE 34 moves along at a nice pace, bringing people from all walks of life together from several unusual subplots (my favorite being Anwar, a Muslim who does whatever he has to do to support his family, even when he becomes involved in international intrigue).
While I wish Stross would have given more time to the building relationship between Inspector Liz and Dorothy (perhaps we'll see that in a 3rd novel?), the perpetrator of the appliance murders took me by surprise and the novel as a whole left me satisfied.
(My only gripe: Every mention of Americans was extremely negative (but thankfully brief). I don't know if Stross is trying to tick off his American fans or not, but if this keeps up it'll be hard for me to buy another title from him, which would SUCK being he's one of my favorite authors.)
Otherwise, RULE 34 makes up nicely for Stross' less-than-stellar third Laundry novel released last summer, THE FULLER MEMORANDUM. Check it out.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Back in July of 2009, I attended my first NECON (a small gathering of horror writers and artists) in Rhode Island and have gone back each year since. Having just returned from my third, I felt it was time to reveal some things I actually learned in-between the excessive drinking and partying.
1) I need to spend much less time horsing around on social networking sites.
2) Miller Lite is made from 98% calf urine.
3) If you actually LISTEN to professionals on the panels, you can benefit from mistakes they've made in the past.
4) Rhode Island--despite the beautiful scenery--has too many leech pits.
5) The horror-fiction community (in general) is the most family-like, down-to-earth, coolest bunch of people in ANY genre.
While I came home inspired after the first two conventions, this time I had advice given to me from a couple of writers (who I've been admiring for years) that not only encouraged me to get more serious, but actually "straightened" me out a bit. Endless thanks to these two gents who shall go unnamed to protect the innocent.
BOTTOM LINE: NECon is a fantastic con that's been going strong since 1980. It's a great mix of professionals, newbies, and fans where much can be gained...despite the college-party-animal climate. Definitely try to attend at least once. I've been looking forward to next year as soon as we left the parking lot...
This year I was part of the HORROR FILM PANEL, where everyone had the chance to recommend horror films they thought all horror fans should see at least once.
Among the many friends I've made at NECon, author John Dixon is one of the funniest...you'll be seeing his name around quite soon. Now only if we can get him to partake in a real beer...
With fellow NEConers after the annual foosball tournament (I won the bronze this time, BTW). Jason Harris in the background, Monica O'Rourke on my shoulder, Sheri White in the McCartney tour shirt.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
MISTIFICATION by Kaaron Warren (2011 Angry Robot Books / 303 pp / tp and eBook)
Warren's latest novel deals with a young magician named Marvo (a REAL magician, not one of those phoney illusionists) who harbors some amazing powers. With his parents gone, his grandmother takes care of him, and when a bunch of thugs try to kill him, she takes the boy to a secret room in a huge house where they live for four years(!). The boy spends his days listening to his grandmother's life stories of magic, and also sneaks out daily to find them food. If you can get past this whole premise (which I had a hard time doing), you'll probably stick around for the next act, in which Marvo's grandmother dies, forcing Marvo to finally venture out into the world.
Without any formal education, Marvo fends for himself by doing whatever he can, and also by "collecting" stories from the many people he meets (there's quite a few of these stories here, some of which tried my patience to the max). He winds up in a psychiatric institution where he eventually gets into a relationship with one of the nurses. They take off and begin performing magic shows together, and as a couple continue to collect stories from everyone they come into contact with (and while some of these stories are interesting, It seems like they're here for filler).
MISTIFICATION had the potential to do alot more than it does. Marvo's powers are more discussed than actually used, and it seemed as if Warren was holding him back for some mysterious reason. While there's some fine moments (especially during Marvo's magic act at a young child's birthday party), I kept waiting for more to happen, but it never did.
In the hands of a lesser writer, I don't know if I would've made it through MISTIFICATION; Warren's prose is always smooth and tight, and I liked the whole "real magic" angle at play here, but like her novel SLIGHTS, there's that same THING going on that seems to be keeping her from unleashing that true classic I KNOW she has in her. A decent read, just don't expect too much magic...
Monday, July 11, 2011
As part of the 10th annual New York Asian Film Festival, Sushi Typhoon (Japan's answer to Troma Films) unleashed another manga-inspired sci-fi/action/splatter/slapstick dark comedy titled YAKUZA WEAPON. Like MACHINE GIRL, this one deals with a gang lord who is enhanced after being captured by the government...this time with a machine gun arm (that turns back to a human arm at will) and a rocket-launcher hidden in his new flip-down knee!
But our anti-hero Shozo (played with comic glee by Tak Sakaguchi) was a lunatic even before his amputated body became weapon-enhanced. After serving 4 years in the jungle (I'm assuming with the military?), Shozo returns home to Tokyo to find his father (a mob kingpin) murdered and his families' hang out turned into a seedy "loan" store. When Shozo learns a rival gang leader is trying to take over the entire underworld by shooting up various gangs with a new "hyperdrug," all hell breaks loose. With only a few brief scenes of a tame nature, YAKUZA WEAPON is an almost constant barrage of kung-fu action, gunplay, sword fights, and some really off-the-wall sequences (Shozo's pissed-off girlfriend welcomes him and his 2 friends home by tossing a small speed boat at them, almost crippling him!).
The highlight of the film features Shozo up against a naked female robot who fires mini-missiles from her vagina (!) and her head flips down to unleash some serious machine gun fire (yes---the Japanese know how to party!). There's also a 4-minute fight scene that was filmed in a single take, yet it looks as if it were professionally choreographed.
Director Yudai Yamaguchi has gone ballistic to see that his fans have a good time, and he has succeeded quite well. Kudos to co-director and star Tak Sakaguchi, who played a major part with the fight scenes here.
With gallons upon gallons of blood (although some of the CGI-splatter looks a bit silly), heads and limbs flying all over the place, and as much old-school fist/foot fighting as any classic karate film, YAKUZA WEAPON is one of the more entertaining Asian mob flicks to come down the pike in years.
A Yakuza member about to have his fembot fire missiles from her crotch!
Shozo wakes up with an interesting new appendage...
COSMIC FORCES by Gregory Lamberson (to be released Oct., 2011 by Medallion Press / 380 pp / tp)
After battling an unusual serial killer in PERSONAL DEMONS and defeating an army of drug-spawned voodoo zombies in DESPERATE SOULS, private investigator Jake Helman returns in yet another action-packed case. This time the wife of New York City's mayor hires Jake to see if her hubby is cheating on her. What he discovers is far worse than a role in the hay: it seems the mayor belongs to an ancient order who have been manipulating world events for centuries . . . and the only way for Jake to bring these guys down is to join them.
But before Jake joins the order, he tangles with assassins, strange, hooded creatures, and through a folk lore expert, learns the legend of Avadiim, who turns out to be an all-too real octopus-like god who is worshipped by the mayor and his cronies. Jake's ex-wife (as well as Cain and Abel) return from the afterlife, giving this installment its heaviest supernatural edge yet (and also some of its more emotional moments).
For fans of the series, there's a slight step taken in Jake's relationship with his psychic neighbor Laurel, and his former partner is still living in the form of a crow named Edgar. Its highly recommended that newcomers check out the first two books in the series, as there's plenty of mention here of what came beforehand.
Despite losing an eye in the second novel, Jake's still as hard as nails as he deals with crooked politicans, battles man-sized as well as giant monsters, and even manages to help his ex-partner's teenaged son to get out of an obscure new age cult (!).
COSMIC FORCES' 380 pages fly by like lightning, and fans of the series will be MUCHO satisfied. Lamberson's modern noir/supernatural horror hybrid has become a must read for me.
Sunday, July 3, 2011
Only 3 issues into their new GODZILLA series, IDW releases a 2nd Godzilla title (GODZILLA: GANGSTERS & GOLIATHS) with a slightly silly premise: Gangsters attempt to whack a detective who tried to turn in their family...but he manages to escape and washes ashore on MONSTER ISLAND! Godzilla deep-fries the Yakuza, but the cop is rescued by an ancient order who guard the twin girls who control Mothra. The cop takes off with the girls, telling them he needs Mothra to help him take down the mob. It sounds ridiculous but John Layman's script actually works here. Hopefully it'll work in the 2nd issue. Either way I'm GEEKING out over all the new Godzilla comics lately...
The 6th issue of CONAN: ROAD OF KINGS wraps up the first section in Dark Horse's current CONAN saga. Everything that has gone down in the first 5 issues is wrapped up nicely here, especially the fate of Gamesh and the return of the giant gold-eating worm creature. While the story here is well done, Mike Hawthorne's artwork is a bit too "Saturday-Morning Cartoon-ish" looking for my taste. (Horror fiction fans: can you spot authors Brian Keene and Mary SanGiovanni in a one-panel cameo? They make fine barbarians!). ROAD OF KINGS continues in 2 months, after a brief 2 issue tale called...
...CONAN: ISLAND OF NO RETURN. In this first issue, Conan is rescued from a frenzied gang of guards by 2 hot-to-trot barbarian women, both thieves. They blackmail Conan into joining them on a dangerous heist: it seems the girls have learned about a huge treasure that's been left in an isolated castle. The only problem is the castle sits on a high mountain on a tiny island, surrounded by fierce waves. Of course Conan manages to scale the mountain and help the girls up, when they're spotted by a strange creature (we only see its silhouette as the issue leaves us hanging for part 2).
Ron Marz' script is a bit lacking here (way too much silly innuendo and some dialogue that sounds like modern language), and while artist Bart Sears does a decent job, I'm not diggin' his rendering of Conan's face: just doesn't cut it for me for some reason. Michael Kutshce's cover, however, is fantastic (see above).
Here's hoping we get the classic Dark Horse CONAN team of Truman and Giorello back before this fine series begins to show signs of age.
Friday, July 1, 2011
NIGHTJACK by Tom Piccirilli (2010 Crossroad Press / 241 pp / eBook)
While Piccirilli has been pumping out the crime noir thrillers lately, this one blends bizarre elements not seen since his novel NOVEMBER MOURNS.
Pace is released from a mental institution only to be abducted by three of his former ward mates, who managed to escape the hospital right after something horrible happened to the daughter of wealthy industrialist Alexandra Kaltzas. All four of Piccirilli's characters suffer from Multiple Personality Disorder, and it's up to Pace to try and discover which one (presumably) raped Cassandra Kaltzas--and being there's so many personalities here, the suspect list is nearly endless (the mystery of just who Cassandra was/is helps drive the tale at a break-neck--ummm--pace).
But Pace has a dark history of his own: after watching his wife burn to death in a mob-orchestrated restaurant arson, an inner demon known as Nightjack had come out of him and managed to slaughter all those responsible (and the constant wait for Nightjack to re-emerge gives this novel nearly non-stop suspense).
As our foursome face constant danger and hitmen sent by Kaltzas, they eventually find themselves on an isolated Greek island, owned by the revenge-hungry tycoon, in an all-out brain-trip of action, dark fantasy, and endless questions (and while I admit to being confused at times due to so many characters popping out of our group, Piccirilli manages to tie things up at the end...so if you go in don't let the insanity turn you off!).
NIGHTJACK is yet another satisfying yarn, sure to please the author's continually-growing legion of fans (kudos here for some dark and slick humor).